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Jon Chang

What’s a Good SAT Score?

Update: This post has been redesigned, just like the SAT! And by redesigned, I mean updated to specifically talk about what is a good SAT score on the the new exam. So really, this post should be called, “What’s a Good SAT Score 2016.” Okay? Okay. (March 2016)

good SAT score

It’s been about a year since Magoosh first started blogging about the SAT revamp. If you took the test a little over a week ago, then you’re probably glad to have it done, but are anticipating/dreading your actual score. And unfortunately, you’re not going to find out your score for a while. The College Board itself says that the earliest day scores will be available is May 10, 2016.

Scratch that! March 2016 SAT scores are officially available. 🙂

Wondering how your new SAT score compares to ACT and old SAT scores? Check out our ACT to New SAT to Old SAT score conversion chart.

good sat scores-magoosh

Despite the fact that scores for the first new SAT exam are now available, we still don’t have a lot of information about how colleges will look at new SAT scores. But don’t worry – your friends, classmates, family members, teachers, guidance counselors, and even university admissions committees are all new to this. They’re trying to understand the new scoring system at the same time you are.

Everyone’s in this together, which is comforting in a way. But even though it’s a new test design, it doesn’t mean that it’s the wild west in college admissions land. Schools won’t deviate too much from where they their past behavior, so here’s how you can make sense of your score in terms of your applications.

A good SAT score depends on where you want to go to college.

You don’t need to have a super-detailed spreadsheet of every single university in the United States and your chances of getting in. But you should have a rough idea whether you want to go to the college half an hour from your house or the ultra-prestigious school at the opposite end of the country. So pick a few schools: some that you’re fairly confident you’ll get in and some that you’ll have to work hard to impress. If you don’t have any idea where to start, make an appointment with your guidance counselor to talk about what colleges are out there and what you should aim for.

Next, look up their admissions data, either on the school’s official website or through a website like CollegeData. For example, let’s look at Case Western Reserve University, where I went to when I graduated from high school. The average for 710 for math, 659 for reading, and 660 for writing.

The new SAT is going to lump reading and writing together, so let’s average that to 660 for Case (rounded up). We have a rough estimate of what the average Case student scored on the SAT. If your own scores are in that neighborhood (plus or minus 50 in each section), then you’re in pretty good shape.

And don’t forget: when you’re looking at admissions data remember that the answer to “what’s a good SAT score” was different in 2015. Good SAT scores in 2015 were based on an entirely different grading system. So, when trying to understand whether a 2016 score is good or not, don’t forget to look at score percentiles instead of raw scores. It’ll be a better comparison!

SAT score not as good as you’d hoped? Check the percentiles.

Because last weekend was the first time the new SAT was given, a lot of experts are predicting scores to be lower than usual. If you wanted to apply to Case, but were concerned about having significantly lower scores on last week’s test, don’t freak out yet. Check the College Board’s percentile data too.

Percentiles are a way to compare your score to every other person who took the SAT that year. If all the test takers got a lot of questions wrong on the new test, the raw score might dip down, but the SAT percentiles will still stay roughly the same. If you’re in the 50 percentile, that means you scored higher than 50% of your peers. If you’re in the 75 percentile, that means you scored higher than 75% of your peers. You get the idea.

Looking at the percentile data, if you scored a 710 in Math, then you are at the 94 percentile. That’s really high percentile, so again, don’t freak out if you’re below. With percentiles, if you’re within 5 percentile points of the average, you’ll still be in good shape. You can apply the same method to your reading/writing score.

SAT score still not looking good? Time to schedule a retake.

Again, because the test was brand spanking new last weekend, your score is likely not going to be as high as you expected. Plan to take the test a second time 3-6 months from now. Set aside a couple of study periods during the week where you focus only on test prep and nothing else. Learn what your weaknesses are and talk with your teachers, tutors, or really smart friends about how to overcome them. Y’all also know that Magoosh has a huge bank of practice questions too, right?

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However, don’t get too obsessed over your SAT score. If you get a 1350 combined score on your re-test, it probably isn’t worth taking again if you were aiming for a 1400. Remember that your SAT score is just one piece in a complex process of college applications. Admissions offices will look at your G.P.A., extracurricular activities, recommendations, and essays along with your SAT score. So don’t expect those extra 50 points to grant you admission to the school. You still have other things that you need to focus on to make your application as strong as possible.


About Jon Chang

Jon has a degree in neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University and a degree in science journalism from New York University. It's safe to say that he's learned a lot of things over the past decade, but he's learned how to write about those things too. All the while, he’s been tutoring students, helping them better understand their own coursework and showing them how to crack the code of the SAT and ACT. When he's not doing that, you can usually find him singing, playing violin, or coming up with bad puns.

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